Parenting infants with a smartphone is a bad idea—and not just for the kids

Don’t worry—they’re feature phones.
Don’t worry—they’re feature phones.
Image: REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Japan’s pediatricians would like to remind mothers and fathers that using smartphones as babysitters really isn’t such a great idea. In order to raise awareness about the supposed perils of handing over the phone to infants to stop them from crying or keep them entertained in their strollers, the Japan Pediatric Association is launching an ad campaign, including posters in children’s hospitals.

In technophilic Japan, smartphone apps for babies and young children have become wildly popular; even without kiddie apps, smartphones’ bright displays and interactive graphics make them a tempting digital pacifier. “When my child cries while we’re outside, I automatically hand my smartphone to my baby,” the mother of a one-year-old in Tokyo told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

While data is scant, childhood development experts say that real-world interactions that teach babies and toddlers about cause and effect are the best way for kids to spend their time. And aside from the potential neurological effects of playing Candy Crush at an early age, Japan’s pediatricians argue that smartphones are a crutch that keep parents from learning how to soothe their kids the old-fashioned, analog way.

“When children become upset, many parents give them a smartphone to keep them quiet,” JPA’s executive director told the newspaper. “But if parents do this, they have fewer chances to communicate through pacifying their babies while watching how they react.”

Using a smartphone to entertain a child is a temptation that nearly every parent succumbs to at one time or another, and not just in Japan: One US survey found that 70% of children under the age of eight have used a mobile device, while research in Ireland shows 62% of children between the ages of 4 and 11 use smartphones and tablets. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children under two years of age “learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”